Vol. 5 Num 985 Thu. March 08, 2007  

Cinema: A paradox for women
In conversation with Samia Zaman

On International Women's Day, the debate again surfaces: "Why celebrate womanhood on one day out of 365?"

TV personality turned filmmaker Samia Zaman says, "Why not? Sure, the idea of celebrating womanhood 365 days would be every feminist's utopian vision come true but that's not the reality.

"There are both positive and negative aspects of marking a day for women on the calendar. I'm content with the positive aspect: women's issues are highlighted on the media, success stories are brought to light. Even if the focus lasts a day, I consider it to be affirmative.

"Of course there's the issue of commercialisation. However, when media is concerned, commercialisation is just an unavoidable by-product."

Going over the predominant trends in cinema, the filmmaker, who made her debut with an out and out commercial project, addresses the popular belief that "mainstream cinema, worldwide, is a man's domain".

"One way or another, it still is, if one must label it. But I don't have horror stories of how I faced discrimination as a filmmaker because of my gender. I did experience certain hurdles but not because I'm a woman. All the impediments I faced had to do with being a first-time filmmaker. In our country, to thrive one needs to be skilled in crises-management. This is true in regard to every sector, not just films," says Zaman.

She adds, "A film can be a director's statement but when it comes to mainstream cinema, gender of the filmmaker is never a defining factor. Subjects, stories and treatments are characterised by mass taste. As it is believed that males make up the majority of moviegoers, it's not a surprise that women-oriented films are treated like pariahs by big time production houses. Take the barrage of Indian soaps on the eternal clash between mother-in-law and daughter-in law. Obviously there is a demand for that.

"Hollywood is a blazing example of the conformist industries. Interestingly enough, films that try to be true to its female protagonists, have surfaced (though not many in number) in Bollywood (the Mumbai-based film industry) that our elitists often sneer at.

"Some of the most provocative and riveting films with women-centric stories have been made by men. Now, that is a beautiful paradox. Consider the way Rituporno Ghosh has treated his characters with utmost conviction in Dahan. That goes on to prove you do not have to be a woman to understand and sympathise with your subject."

"Cinema is a world of anomalies and contradictions. Why look further? Bangladesh is an epitome of paradox. Our mainstream films are considered to be male-oriented. Yet the central role in one of the biggest hits in last couple of years -- Mollah Barir Bou -- was a woman. In the film which is full of clichés and commercial to the bone, the protagonist was treated in such a way that no one probably noticed it rested on the delicate shoulders of an actress.

"Throughout the '80s and early '90s, Anju Ghosh pulled off many an absurd masala film all by herself. Currently the highest paid actor in our movie industry is Shabnoor," says a grinning Zaman.

A beautiful paradox indeed.

Samia Zaman, filmmaker